The Nightingale, Kara Dalkey
“The Nightingale” is one of my favorite fairy tales and was originally written by Hans Christian Anderson. It is the tale of a Chinese emperor who learns that the most beautiful thing in his kingdom is the song of the nightingale. The Emperor orders his subjects to locate the nightingale, and it is revealed that a kitchen main is the only person at the court who knows its whereabouts. The maid takes the Emperor to the riverside where he is enchanted by the nightingale’s song, and asks the bird to join him at the court. The nightingale is a favorite at court until the Emperor is given a gift of a mechanical nightingale and looses interest in the real nightingale. A few years later, the mechanical nightingale is broken and the Emperor is dying. The nightingale returns to the Emperor and sings so wonderfully that the Emperor is healed.
I loved the way Dalkey adapted “The Nightingale” into a novel. The story is set in ancient Japan rather than China, and the nightingale is Uguisu, a flautist and the daughter of a lower-ranking member of court. She is in love with Takenono, son of the court’s head gardener, but her father won’t allow her to marry him because he wants to use her marriage to increase his position at court. The Imperial court is beautifully described - the festivals, the descriptions of the elegant silk kimonos, the way the members of the court write poems to convey messages to each other. I particularly liked the way Japanese mythology played a part in the story - Uguisu’s ancestor spirit is actually an oni that possesses the Empereor and is the cause of his sickness, and the Emperor’s cat, Lady Hinata, is the aspect of Amaterasu.
And I enjoyed the way the relationships between Uguisu and the Emperor and Takenono are resolved. Takenono, who left at the beginning of the story to become a monk despite his love for Uguisu, knowing he will never be allowed to marry her, plays a vital part in exorcising the oni from the Emperor and falls in love with his religion. All in all, it’s a sweet little story with a beautiful atmosphere and interesting politics - the Emperor is a mere figurehead who rebels in small ways against the clan who controls the throne.
Top Ten Tuesdays
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR List1. The Nightingale, Kara Dalkey
PaperBackSwap’s final gift to me. I’ve been a member for two years now, and I’m finally at the point where I just don’t have any more books I want to give up. Kara Dalkey’s addition to Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series is one I’ve been wanting to read for years.2. Mortal Love, Elizabeth Hand
One I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I’ve heard wonderful things about it.3. Among the Bohemians and 4. Singled Out, Virginia Nicholson
I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, but one of my favorite periods is the early 20th century, and I need to do research for a short story I’m writing.
5. The Children’s Book, A.S. Byatt
I didn’t like Possession
, the only A.S. Byatt novel I’ve ever read, but I’m willing to give her another shot.6. The Little White Bird and 7. Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
I haven’t read Peter and Wendy
in so long that I can’t remember most of it without thinking of the Disney film. And I have never read The Little White Bird.
But I’m still on an Edwardian kick that needs fulfillment in some form.8. Deathless, Cathryn Valente
Russion folklore and Baga Yaga cameos! That is what I’ve heard about this book and I would like to make its acquaintance.9. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
It is on my Netflix queue, and I am eager to read the book so that I might watch the movie. It looks period-y and gorgeous.10. Nightingale Wood, Stella Gibbons
Hated Cold Comfort Farm
, but I love the title of this book.
For the past five years or so I’ve been trying to read books by all the members of the Scribblies writers’ group, which includes Patricia C. Wrede and Pamela Dean, my two favorite authors. I am utterly fond of urban fantasy and read everything I can find on the subject. The current Scribblie I’m reading is Kara Dalkey.
I found this book in the mail Saturday morning from a PaperBackSwap member. She had told me that she loved Kara Dalkey’s books and that I should read her historical fiction books next. I sat on the couch, unwrapped Steel Rose and started reading. Despite two family birthday parties, five loads of laundry, and a trip to the house we’re trying to buy, I finished Steel Rose that evening.
It reminded me a lot of Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks, which has been one of my absolute favorite books since I read it last year. In fact, it’s a complete role-reversal of The War for the Oaks, with the protagonist on the side of the Unseelie rather than the Seelie court. T.J. accidentally conjures up two Unseelie knockers while practicing for a performance art piece at a Pittsburgh park, who want her to help them overthrow the Queen of the Sidhe.
T.J. meets various Seelie and Unseelie characters roaming the streets of Pittsburgh and Under the Hill, including a lascivious Italian brownie, Luigi, folk legend Joe Magarac, a Ganconer hit man, and Queen Mab herself. It was a great fun, quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the desecriptions of Pittsburgh and the local folklore that appeared in the book.
Some of the writing was a bit uneven. T.J. had issues both with her father dying and her mother’s pressure for her to grow up that were mentioned several times but never really wrapped up. T.J.’s superstitious grandmother was a great character that I had hoped would show up more towards the end.
I was very interested in the dynamics between the Sidhe and the Unseelie in Steel Rose. The Seelie court is depicted as Mother Earth-loving hippie types that protest pollution in Pittsburgh and want an end to the factories. The Unseelie court consists of average Joe blue-collars workers. The Unseelie are the instigatiots of this partiuclar turf war, claiming they want more respect from the Seelie court. They also want the steel mills to stay open. T.J. kind of waffles back and forth, wondering if she should really be on the Sidhe side, because she loves the earth, too, but the fact that her father was a steel mill worker keeps her loyalties to the Unseelie court firm. It was an unusual take on the Seelie/Unseelie court situation, and I really, really liked it.
I just wish that in the end, there was more of a resolution. The Unseelie are ready to die for their mills and the Seelie are ready to die for their plants and the only reason the fight is stopped is because T.J. makes them have a truce. But the truce doesn’t mean anything, because nothing is resolved and the war will only start again.
Still, it was great to read urban fantasy again and I’m keen to read more of Kara Dalkey’s writing.
My mailbox is going to be overflowing soon with books from PaperBackSwap!
Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, Vivian Vande Velde’s